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Visa opens a Sub-Saharan innovation hub in Nairobi with an Afrocentric twist

Digital payment giant Visa recently launched an innovation studio in Nairobi. It is the sixth Visa innovation Studio in the world but the first one in Africa. The innovation studio will be a hub for developing products for the African market.

The futuristic studio is an afro-centric space that has brought together creatives from around Africa, who worked together to make it come to life. Each section in the innovation studio pays homage to a particular aspect of African culture, a large chunk of which was created by the Savannah Design Studio based in Nairobi. The attention to detail is impressive and every section adds a breathtaking burst of Afrocentric patterns, fabrics, and colours.

As you get into the studio, you are greeted by the Welcome Wall. On one side is a fabric map engraved into the wall, with custom-cut indigenous textiles sewn into the map of Africa; each on the region the fabric comes from. The project is flanked by three circular screens on one side. Adjacent to the map is the welcome wall, with removable capability bracelets which are handcrafted with beads woven onto leather and mounted onto wooden bangles.

Behind the welcome wall is the Kilimanjaro Zone. In it, you will find yourself standing under a wire mesh, clouds floating over a replica of Mt Kilimanjaro, which is the centrepiece of a table sculpted in the shape of Africa and surrounded by stools reminiscent of African drums. It was created by Kevin Oduor Wasonga, most famously known for sculpting the Dedan Kimathi in Nairobi’s city centre.

A small lounge next to it features uniquely crafted, colourful seats, whose style borrows from various communities on the continent. It is one of several small lounges, and there are TV screens next to them. In the middle is a wide meeting area with the largest screen in the room.

You cannot miss one of the highlights of the studio, the Chapas Express, which is a repurposed minibus in the middle of the room. One wonders how on earth they got it into the building. It has been decked out just like a matatu on the street and is the work of Swift9, a Nairobi-based visual artist who specializes in graffiti and urban art. This area represents the transport industry.

Various musical instruments adorn another wall, a symbol of the music industry. Among the instruments featured are the Kalimba, a modern version of the African Mbira, and the djembe drum, one of the world’s most versatile and widespread percussion instruments.

Beautiful, hand-woven pendant lights hang from above next to the music wall. They are made of sisal and dyed with Kenyan black tea and turmeric. They are the work of Mood NBO, based in Nairobi. Also displayed in the room are Bolga baskets from Ghana, the Alkebulan Mall in South Africa, Café Bantou to represent the hospitality industry.

To say the least, the space is as much artistic as it is futuristic. In one part of the studio, you can choose an outfit, then stand in front of a full-length screen without having to change, and the screen shows you how it would look on you if you were wearing it, like a mirror.

One can hardly exhaust everything there is to see in the studio. It was designed for maximum inspiration for anyone who steps in it and truly embodies the spirit of Africa. Each area represents an aspect of business in Africa for which Visa is developing products. Besides being an innovative and creative space, the Visa Innovation Studio in Nairobi will help organizations deal with the region’s most pressing challenges.

Article written by Jacqueline Mahugu.